In the day and age of easy travel and global connection through email and texting, it is not uncommon to have good friends in other parts of the world. Two of my best friends live in Texas and Florida, but I have also have close connections in California, Oregon, Arizona, Kansas, Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina.
In the case of most of my close friends, I have spent a lot of time with them in person, and emailing and texting is just a handy way to keep in touch. Maybe we went to college or high school together, but in almost every case, we lived near each other at one point.
Recently, I told a friend in Oregon about a young couple who live here in Kentucky and how I wanted the three of them to meet because of the many things they have in common. The reality is, though, they will likely never spend any significant time together because of the distance between them, no matter how well they might potentially get along.
After that exchange, I realized a simple truth: friendships, at their core, are about proximity. The reason for the proximity might be due to common interests, goals or seasons in life, but it’s rare to have a deep friendship without a great deal of time spent together.
Before the age of the automobile, most people spent their entire lives within one small geographical circle. They were forced to make friends with people who were not necessarily like them in temperament, values or goals. But more than friendship, they were dependent on one another for survival. For them, when the Bible said “love thy neighbor,” it truly meant loving people they might not like all that much. There was also a very practical reason for it, though: they needed each other for community and survival.
Nowadays, we don’t have to love our neighbor because we don’t even have to know our neighbor. We can hop in the car and drive wherever we want. We are not dependent on our neighbors to help us raise crops, can food and make household goods. We find our community beyond geographical bounds and for some, even in cyberspace.
I recently heard a sermon that said the whole world is our neighbor. And while I agree with that on a philosophical level, I really think God was telling us to love our geographic neighbor; that’s harder to do day in and day out than spending a week in Africa loving on kids.
But before we learn to love our neighbors we have to get to know them. My husband and I live on a country road and are blessed to have some wonderful neighbors. But I confess, I don’t know some of them that well. They are on different schedules from us, so I might pass them coming and going, but a wave of the hand is all we share.
In the last year, we have had some unique opportunities with some of our neighbors. We have a standing invitation to use our neighbors’ swimming pool. As a bonus, we get a soaking visit with our friends while the kids are swimming. Another neighbor allowed us to use their primitive cabin for an overnight campout with our grandkids. We encourage another to use our driveway and farm lanes for her walks, and we regularly give eggs to another.
I want to love my neighbor and I want to be a good neighbor; I believe we’re called to do both. So my goal this summer is to think of more ways I can reach out to those who live close by. We need each other, and I believe God put us in such close proximity for a purpose.